After two seasons of missing postseason play, the Grady baseball team is pushing to make the state playoffs in a new region.
In the old Region 6-AAAA, the Knights faced baseball powerhouses St. Pius and Marist, as well as Columbia, Chamblee and Redan.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs and maybe go deep into them,” sophomore catcher Ben Lepik said. “The region we are playing in this year is a little bit weaker, so I think it is a very realistic goal.”
The Knights finished 14-9-1 overall and 9-4 in the region in 2014, good enough for fourth place. Grady lost its first-round playoff series to Lanier 2-1 in three games.
In 2015, Grady finished 11-9 with a 10-8 region record. That team finished in a fourth-place region tie, but lost a tiebreaker to Chamblee, which scored more runs in region play.
“This year we have changed the perception of the players,” coach Darryl Pearson said.”We need to stay focused, and finish the job in everything we do.”
Last year, in Pearson’s first season, the team went 9-13, but were only 3.5 games out of a playoff berth. Only a handful of the current seniors played on the 14-9-1 varsity team as freshmen in 2014. They want another opportunity to make the postseason.
“I would really like to make the playoffs at least one more time while I am at Grady,’’ senior centerfielder Micaiah Streator said. “The two years after my first [playoff season], we did not make it, which was disappointing. Although we did not make it the past two years, it would be more meaningful to me if we made it now because I have a larger role on the team.’’
On Feb. 1, Streator signed his National Letter of Intent to play baseball at the Division II Augusta University on full scholarship. He was the only Grady player to officially sign, but some seniors, including outfielder Andrew Meadows, plan to walk onto a team in college. Meadows had to get Tommy John surgery, which will prevent him from playing for nearly a year. He now works with the Grady baseball program as a team manager.
“I had to sacrifice my whole senior year to be able to try and walk-on in college,” Meadows said. “I could have played this year, but I would not have been able to play baseball ever again, according to my doctor.”
The program lost strong senior leadership last year, including two players now on college rosters. Chattahoochee Valley infielder Davis Schwartz and Southern University pitcher Charles Bailey are among the talent the team has lost, in addition to utility men Vernon Colton and William Chapman. Younger players are expected to step up this season.
“We have some good youngsters on varsity this year and, depending on injuries, could get more playing time than in the past,” Lepik said.
Still without a field on campus, the team continues to travel to Alonzo A. Crim Open Campus High School to practice and play games. Every other team in the region has a field on its high school campus. The Knights’ situation has been slightly remedied with the addition of a new batting cage inside Grady Stadium.
“The hitting cage will definitely give us an edge to compete,” Pearson said.
The Knights started the season with a doubleheader loss to city rival North Atlanta on Feb. 18 Grady dropped the first game 6-1 and the second game, 11-1.
“It was not the start we were looking for, and we have some ground to make up,” Meadows said.
The following three games were against new region foe Banneker. The first game ended in a win for the Knights, 10-0, with 11 strikeouts by senior pitcher Jack Bannon.
The second game resulted in an 8-2 victory, led by eight strikeouts with Streator on the mound and a solo home run by junior shortstop Lyndon Weaver. The series finale ended in a 7-4 loss after the Knights failed to drive in many baserunners.
Grady then traveled to Lithia Springs on Mar. 6, where they held an 8-3 lead in the fifth inning before losing 9-8. The Knights then lost 8-2 at Crim after a slew of errors wasted an otherwise low scoring pithing performance by Streator and senior Yan Mastin. The finale of the series was on Mar. 10 at Lithia Springs.
Despite the slow start, players remain committed to turning the season around and earning a berth in the state playoffs.
“We’ve lost to teams that I know we can sweep,” Streator said. “We have to finish and keep our leads late in the game.”